Colts from Tonga #4: ‘apiako

Arriving in Tonga, and heading towards the wharf to ‘Atata Island, we were given a small tour en route in our tour bus. We were shown a variety of various schools, from elementary schools all the way to the University of the Pacific South Tongan campus. By the time we arrived at the wharf, I thought that I’d already received quite a bit of information on how the education system worked in the amazing islands of Tonga. I had thought that it was comparatively similar to that of Canada for local citizens, free education for all up and until post-secondary if one chooses to do so (and the exception of private school).

For the most part (not really), my inferences were correct. The kids were able to attend public elementary schools free of charge, other than the cost of their school uniform. But most stages after elementary school graduation varied drastically. Secondary school or whatever form of education that comes after primary school is no longer paid for by the government and tuition is paid for by the student’s family. Because tuition can be costly for families due to the lower average income (1.5-2 pa’anga/day), a large number of children end their education after primary school. The costs of school can be a hefty financial burden, and many times it is more important for the parents to keep a roof overhead and food on the table than let the children receive in education. University, college, and/or post-secondary education is an even more piece of untouched territory by an even large part of the population. In Tonga, there is a campus of the University of the Pacific South, offering courses for only Year 1 and 2. After completing the first 2 years and in order to continue their degree, they must move abroad to New Zealand.

For quite a bit of the Tongan population, mostly the more wealthy and well-off families, the children are sent to New Zealand or even Australia to have a higher education beginning from right after elementary school. Thereafter, they continue to study post-secondary in the overseas as well and only return home for holidays or between school years.

After seeing the way Tongan education is set up, I feel very indifferent towards what we have at home. On one hand, I am very fortunate to be able to attend all levels and parts of my education in a close proximity to where I live. On the other hand, I wonder what it’s like to live away from home. Going home would have much more meaning, and I would be put out there and given more responsibility and more opportunities to increase and practice my independence.

Even though I occasionally say that “I hate school”, it doesn’t really reflect my feelings on my education at all. I am more than grateful, beyond the explanation of words, for the level of education that I receive at Richmond High. Although there are certain aspects, like exams and finals, that I would opt out of if the choice were there, I enjoy almost all other aspects of my day to day life at RHS and don’t take what I have for granted because my free education is a privilege that many around the world don’t have access to.

-Bernice

12 days since.